Friday, 12 July 2013
The original Maniac, directed by William Lustig, contains arguably one of the most brilliantly played psychopaths in the history of cinema. Never before or since, was it so easy to find someone so sleazy, so despicable, as it was with Joe Spinell's portrayal of Frank Zito. He practically oozed disgust from every pore, which in turn gave the film an unclean feeling, something which the grimy streets of a 1980's New York certainly helped along. I understand this is a re-imagining, but I cannot help but compare it to the original film.
This 2012 remake, directed by Franck Khalfoun, replaces the grimy streets of New York with downtown Los Angeles, and replaces the magnificent Joe Spinell with Elijah Woods, who surprisingly transcends the role perfected by Joe Spinell, but in doing so, makes Frank more sympathetic and likeable. I couldn't help but feel the movie lost a lot of it's punch due to that simple fact.
Elijah Woods plays Frank, a withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, who also has a compulsion to kill and scalp females. When a young artist named Anna asks for his help with an exhibition, Frank becomes obsessed with the young woman. Can he hide his crimes and suppress the need to kill? Will Anna find out what Frank really is?
I have to admit to being instantly drawn in by the opening scene. It is incredibly tense, and the murder did come from out of nowhere. I felt like I would really enjoy the movie, but was ultimately let down by a few factors. Frank's remorse over the acts he commits are also made apparent, adding more dimension to the character of Frank, but again reducing the danger element the original pulled off so well. Are we supposed to identify with a killer? This is a question the movie throws at you again and again, and no matter how many times it does, the answer was always the same. There is no way I could despise Woods character, no matter what despicable acts he committed.
That is no fault of the actor though. He is just so likeable in everything he has done, it is incredibly hard not to accept him as a nice guy, even when he is brutally murdering and scalping women, or is shouting at himself in a blind rage. The flashbacks he has about his childhood only add weight to feeling sorry for this character, making him out to be misunderstood and in so much mental pain that you can hardly blame him for letting loose with a blade now and again. Maybe this was the filmmakers intention, but again, it made the impact of the movie rather weak.
Another thing the remake suffers from, is the lack of any spectacular kills. There is nothing here to even slightly match the ferocity of the original. The murders are rather mundane, and although the FX are amazing, there was no shock value whatsoever. With every killing, all I could think of was "is that it"?
That isn't to say Maniac isn't a good film. It is magnificent in it's portrayal of a mentally disturbed young man with mother issues. If there was no 1980 version of the movie, I would be praising this much more than I have. You get to live the life of Frank for 85 minutes. You get to see everything through his eyes, and you will question why he behaves in such a way, and you will beg for him to be normal and happy. The movie manages to build tension well with it's incredible P.O.V stalking scenes. Even though the whole movie is filmed this way, it is these scenes in particular that stand out, implicating the viewer in every slash of the blade, every death and every scalping.
Maniac is an exercise in fear and mental degradation. It also touches on voyeurism and obsession, two of the things director Franck Khalfoun touched upon with his previous film P2. If you go in expecting it to be anything like the original, you will be severely disappointed. This film, under any other name, would be embraced by both horror fans and by mainstream cinema goers, such is it's impact of it's characters. It is just a shame that every element of sleaze and danger that made the original so different is missing from this movie, leaving what I felt was a sterile, clean but still sadistic and ultimately sad movie that relies more on emotion and feeling sorry for the killer more than it does on the audience despising his every action.